Returning from a Pilgrimage

 

And what you thought you came for
Is only a shell, a husk of meaning
From which the purpose breaks only when it is fulfilled
If at all. Either you had no purpose
Or the purpose is beyond the end you figured
And is altered in fulfilment.”- TS Eliot, Little Gidding

It hits like an earthquake or a flash flood, or thunder in a clear sky, this sudden understanding, this making plain of what was obscure. It’s like being hit on the head, the violence and the unexpectedness of the realisation that now, now  you understand.

And yet, in the moment also comes a realisation that the chances are you will never be able to explain what you know now and how you come to know it. Everything becomes a metaphor, a finger pointing at the moon.

The first time this earthquake really shook my brain I was nineteen and I’d just had a professor of astrophysics explain the Theory of Relativity to me, quite cordially over a cup of coffee in a senior common room I really wasn’t meant to be in. It had taken about fifteen minutes and when he paused and looked at me to see if I “got” it, the ‘quake hit and I did. I had the sense of my own intelligence being too small, too puny to retain it and relay it back to another person, but for a few seconds I “got” it and it made sense. Then the synapses involved seemed to implode and the fragile connections were lost. But for a short while I understood.

Perhaps I might have understood for longer had my field been physics or even mathematics, but my subjects were English and Latin and I was a sneaky interloper in this world of mad professors and bad coffee.

These last weeks have been full of goodbyes, some permanent and some apparently temporary. I’ve been discovering that I am homeless, in a very real sense, but not the literal one. On Sunday I attended Quaker meeting as I occasionally do. For those who are unfamiliar with it, Quaker worship consists of sitting in silence for an hour and listening to…well, inner thoughts, God, the collective thoughts of all. I don’t know. For me, it’s always been an oasis of peace and time to be, for a short time at least, a part of a greater community. This Sunday, I felt an outsider again. Nobody’s fault; I suspect it’s always been the case. I am unable to commit to being anything other than an occasional attender and on Sunday I realised that while it may be still of benefit, it’s never going to be Home for me.

Yesterday we made an impromptu pilgrimage to Walsingham.

It was unplanned in the sense that we didn’t spend days or weeks deciding we would go, but we went on the spur of the moment. It’s maybe an hour and a half’s drive away, when the traffic is good and it’s been some three years since I last went, I think. Walsingham has been the centre of pilgrimage since 1061, with a break during the Reformation until about seventy years ago when the Well was rediscovered. I’ve always liked the quirky little town in the middle of nowhere near the North Norfolk coast and enjoyed the Anglo-Catholic pomp and ritual, with a small smile of amusement, and I have had great respect for the well itself. The Shrine church is a masterpiece of bad taste and worse art and yet, amid the many flickering candles I used to sense the spirit of the place and of God.

But yesterday, while I enjoyed the visit, it had ceased to be special and meaningful for me. My purpose in visiting had been to touch base with my spirituality and yet, when I was there, nothing. I attended the sprinkling of the waters, drank the waters and was grateful and yet, beyond that, nothing.

When I got home, I remembered the words that had been in my head before we went:

You are not here to verify,
Instruct yourself, or inform curiosity
Or carry report. You are here to kneel
Where prayer has been valid.” TS Eliot, Little Gidding

That was true enough. I had indeed gone to pray and yet, my purpose in being there was indeed “beyond the end you figured
And is altered in fulfilment.”- I had come for something and yet, not knowing what it was, truly, even then I had found it was not what I had come for.

I had come for something else. I had come to find something I had believed I would find here and yet, I did not find it. I don’t even know if I can get further than this with my explaining.

There are three conditions which often look alike
Yet differ completely, flourish in the same hedgerow:
Attachment to self and to things and to persons, detachment
From self and from things and from persons; and, growing between them, indifference
Which resembles the others as death resembles life,
Being between two lives—unflowering, between
The live and the dead nettle.” TS Eliot, Little Gidding

Something has changed in me. I am between two lives.

We shall not cease from exploration
And the end of all our exploring
Will be to arrive where we started
And know the place for the first time.
Through the unknown, unremembered gate
When the last of earth left to discover
Is that which was the beginning;
At the source of the longest river
The voice of the hidden waterfall
And the children in the apple-tree
Not known, because not looked for
But heard, half-heard, in the stillness
Between two waves of the sea.
Quick now, here, now, always—
A condition of complete simplicity
(Costing not less than everything)
And all shall be well and
All manner of thing shall be well
When the tongues of flame are in-folded
Into the crowned knot of fire
And the fire and the rose are one.” TS Eliot, Little Gidding

I am the explorer, waiting for my new journey to begin.

Was I God’s photographer?

My reflections on THAT  photograph.

It’s been a little over a  week since I saw the image for the first time and a week since I posted the picture here and I have had a lot of time to think. I’ve thought about the responses of all those who have seen it and commented on it(either here, in private by email or in person) and I’ve thought about my own reactions, both to the picture and to the comments.

 A number of you perceived it as a feminine presence, but many more saw it as either the face of God or an image of Jesus Christ himself. Many have also seen it as being a sign of something special to come.

In seeking clarity I approached a number of people who have experience in these matters.

My own spiritual teacher told me that it was indeed the face of Jesus and that it was a great blessing for me.

Julian Drewett, general secretary of the Churches’ Fellowship for Psychical and Spiritual Studies  commented that due to the chanting and the overall prayerful atmosphere, “the veil was thin”, that unseen barrier between the world we see and the world that resides both beyond it and embedded within in and my camera was able to capture an image of the beings who surround us at all times though we know it not. He also commented that it isn’t unusual for these things to be seen but it is unusual to have them captured like this.

 Neil Broadbent of the Sozein Trust  suggested that the image was in fact a thought form created by the monks at prayer, a suggestion that actually raises far more questions and implications than it solves. And for me it entirely negates my personal role in taking the photo; any blessing or sense of being somehow special at being the person who took the photo is taken away. In his view the focus is entirely on the monks who are mysteriously creating this image with smoke and sunlight and not on the witness who captured it and is now asking the questions. His response was to play down the sheer wonder of this image and make it commonplace and focused entirely on the spiritual elite.

 One of the tests of a vision is what has it produced and in the week since I first saw this image, I think I have spent more time in prayer and contemplation than I have for a long time. I have also been deeply moved by the responses of people who have seen it. People who have seldom if ever had anything to do with religion of any sort have come away with goosebumps and with wonder in their eyes and have begun to ask all sorts of questions. For me, it has been a ride of epic proportions because while I have seen and experienced things before, they have all been effectively subjective. Never before have I had objective evidence of an experience. Gazing at the image I am struck by the pose of the figure. He stands with his arms raised slightly, comfortable, as if waiting to greet with a hug whoever steps forward. He does not stand as if still crucified and he does not raise an arm as a warning or a blessing; he stands as one of us, beside us.

If you blow the image larger you may see other images inside it. I have had comments about paraeidolia  and I am content to say, yes, we do indeed see images and patterns and faces in random things. But what a coincidence that a camera should capture such an appropriate image in a church during a service… I am struck also by the coincidence of my thoughts and feelings during the service with the apparition(if that is the right word) and how it also coincides with Jesus’s own words,”When two or three are gathered together, there am I also.” The other images in the picture to me simply reinforce the impression given by Julian that we are surrounded by beings(whether we call them angels or not) who care for us. I will be quite honest: it’s a rare month that goes by without me giving thought at least once to suicide. But to remember that I am surrounded even at times like those by bright spirits is something that gives great comfort.

 If the image has moved you, pass it on to others you think may find comfort or inspiration in it. If you have any thoughts to share, I would be very grateful to hear them, either here or privately via email.

You can find my email address on the Contact me page.

 Thank you everyone.

Bad times, sad times

I came across this article today and it goes some way to explaining why I would rather not ever go back into a parish…

Vicar’s family ‘forced out of area’

http://uk.news.yahoo.com/21/20091216/tuk-vicar-s-family-forced-out-of-area-6323e80.html

You may need to cut and paste the address as it doesn’t seem to be making a link.

Contact Points, a book plug

It’s taken me longer than I intended to write this post and for this I apologise.

I’m doing a little bit of a book plug, for a friend. It’s a very unusual little book in terms of its subject matter, and for that subject matter, it’s also unusual  because of it’s down to earth and non-sensational approach to an area that is hopelessly prone to drama and sensationalism.

Contact Points is a series of short essays about the communication of the dead with the living, and was written by Elaine Moss. You can read more about the book and why Elaine wrote it at    http://elainemoss.com/home.html

I’ve known Elaine for quite a long time, really, as the wife of a lecturer who taught my husband some branch of chemistry back in the dim and distant past when he was an undergraduate, but we didn’t meet up until some years later.

Now, part of the reason that my husband and I got to know John and Elaine Moss was because we were feeling increasingly isolated within the wider church, and especially in the Church of England, because of our interests in the paranormal aspects of spirituality. I’ve been a sort of visionary and mystic most of my life and like many before me, found it hard to fit in with a community that is, in essence, terrified of this sort of thing. We had a lovely long chat once day with Elaine and John and felt a lot better  to hear we were not freaks or apostates. 

It was a good many years later before I finally joined The Churches Fellowship for Psychical and Spiritual Studies and discovered that I was far from alone. You can find a link to their wesbite if you click on the useful links on Elaine’s website. It’s not kept as up-to-date as it ought to be but it’ll give you more information about them.

Elaine kindly sent me a copy of her book after I read it at my friend Kate’s. Kate has been helping Elaine edit and then market and distribute the book, and I found the book both intriguing and comforting. I dislike anything that hypes up the whole Ghost Whisperer kind of thing and Elaine’s book is delightfully understated and very English in many ways. When I first met Elaine she was working on breeding daffodils; I believe she now works on carnations! You can’t get more English than that!

If you do decide to buy a copy, I’d advise you to buy it direct from Elaine rather than Amazon if you can. This way she gets more money; Amazon don’t pay much! That said, Elaine isn’t terribly interested in making any money back, but Kate, who’s effectively her agent, is keen that the book reaches at many people at possible.

The book doesn’t give definitive answers, something I liked, and it raises a lot more questions too. Have a read through the website, and if it interests you, have a look at the CFPSS website too. It shows the churches in a very different light from the one you may be used to.